It’s hard not to think of Christiansburg as New River Valley’s retail headquarters. Home to Uptown Christiansburg (or ‘the mall’), the perpetually-under-renovation Marketplace, Target, Walmart and sundry flanking strip malls, we are thankful for the practical and impractical options alike.
However, if you travel a wee bit off the beaten box store path, you end up at the intersection of ‘historical’ and ‘quaint,’ otherwise known as Cambria. It doesn’t feel like anywhere else, and it certainly doesn’t look like it. Until 1964, Cambria was its own town, anchored by a picturesque train depot building, one of only two depots in Virginia built during the Reconstruction Era that are still standing.
But perhaps the most notable – and noticeable – business, with a faÃ§ade of stone and wood and a plump carved welcoming bear, is the Crab Creek Country Store. Adjacent to the tracks and along Crab Creek itself, the country store evolved quite naturally from its origins as a heat source.
A Family Business[es]
“We’ve had a hearth shop that sells wood stoves, gas fireplaces, pellet stoves and the like since the early â€˜90s. We would buy decorations for the fireplace mantles and showroom. Then we started having customers want to buy our decorations, and it snowballed from there,” says Amber Smith, store manager, who started working at the store after high school graduation in 2009.
The hearth shop is Blue Ridge Heating & Air and boasts the biggest sign out front. Started by Smith’s grandparents, Bob and Brenda Martin in 1989, Blue Ridge now acts as the country store’s parent company. Three generations and 12 family members currently work full time; truly family-owned and operated endeavors. Smith’s grandmother was the original visionary for the country store and its wares. She is semi-retired, but still pops in to browse new products.
A stroll through the aisles will take you by garden flags and outdoor decor, candles and wax melts, floral stems, “scoop your own” potpourri, door mats, house number signs, framed art, greeting cards, body lotions and potions, handcrafted jewelry, local honey, sundry housewares and furniture, figurines, quilts, kitschy kitchen products, and an impressive selection of Poo-Pourri flavors.
Go in for a new remote-controlled fireplace, come out with a garden flag that says, “There’s No Place Like Gnome.”
Over the years the clientele has grown to include all ages. Smith declares: “It truly is a store that appeals to everyone. Men like to browse our hearth shop and watch episodes of Andy Griffith we have playing.”
While the foot traffic stays consistent year-round, the busiest season is, by far, the holidays. It is an entirely different experience than shopping at a big box store, Smith reveals. The shelves are lined with intentional, creative products all with unique gift-giving in mind, so the experience becomes special for both the giver and the receiver. “The holiday season is about family, and we have several families that come in to shop together. It’s special to them and for us.â€
During the holidays, the store ramps up on seasonally-themed products like home dÃ©cor, ornaments, trees, garlands, floral stems. Everything that offers a scent changes from light and floral to wintry and earthy. The year-round popular wax melts hail from Swan Creek Candle in North Carolina, are heavily scented and made entirely of soybean wax. Patrons come from all over southwest Virginia for the melts specifically. After all, it’s the perfect time of year to have “Fresh Cut Christmas Tree” or “Peppermint Twist” wafting through your home.
When decorating for the holidays, it can be overwhelming to consult the endless suggestions of social media. Trying to recreate something you’ve seen on Pinterest sets lofty expectations during a time that is already replete with handcraft overload. Smith offers a small bit of advice: â€œKeep it simple. I think the biggest tip I can give anyone is to decorate with what you love, not what social media tells you to love. It can be a helpful tool, full of ideas, but at the end of the day, decorate with what makes you happy.”
There is nothing like shopping in a store that reminds you of coming home from the sights and smells. It’s not something you will find at the crossroads of Peppers Ferry Road and North Franklin Street. It takes a venture off-grid to find gifts on-point.
Smith’s favorite part of her job? “The atmosphere we’ve created and the way it makes our customers feel. I think it’s reminiscent of their childhood or their grandmotherâ€™s house. We’re a Christian company, and that translates into every aspect of our store, from the products we sell to the bluegrass gospel you hear while shopping here.”
She concludes: “Our homes are our safe haven, and they should be filled with the things and the people we love.”
Text by Nancy S. Moseley
Photos courtesy of Crab Creek Country Store
Nancy S. Moseley is a freelance writer and when she mentioned the new remote-controlled fireplace and gnome flag, she may have been speaking from personal experience. And she may have excitedly picked up a couple of spray bottles of Poo-Pouri, too (it really is the best stuff around).